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In 2005, the only three freshman Mormons at the Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, known as the “Mormon Musketeers” were the ones to watch in the realm of the School’s 4-A lacrosse team.

During one of the matches, Walt Whitman High and Walter Johnson High, two of the toughest, most competitive rivals in the public high lacrosse arena, gathered for their annual showdown in Rockville. The teams were evenly matched throughout much of the first half, with each point being answered by the other.

Late in the second quarter, a Whitman player broke free from the pack and sprinted down the field in the fast break for an on-goal shot.  Mano-a-Mano, with just the Whitman Attack facing the Johnson High Goalie and no other players from either team nearby, the Whitman Player took what would be the game-tying shot—only to have the ball go right into the head of the Goalie’s stick for a collective groan of dismay from the Whitman fans.

After missing what should have been, at least from the fans’ perspective, a “gimme”, the Whitman player took off his helmet in disgust and threw it across the field.  He would not shoot again the rest of the game.

As a devoted fan, it was painful to watch.  As the father of the player in question, it was even more so.

As I watched this unfold on the playing field, I thought to myself how much like missionary work this series of events was.

Each of us thoughtfully and, sometimes, prayerfully, identifies someone whom we think will benefit from having the gospel in their lives–a family member, friend, co-worker, classmate or other acquaintance.  We carefully strategize our approach  and then attempt to execute it with masterful skill—only to find that, instead of achieving our goal, frequently our efforts are, as the high schoolers say, “REEEEjected!”

Faced with the humiliation and/or disappointment of having our best efforts thwarted, too often, we give up and vow “never to take the shot again” rather than risk the accompanying  feeling of embarrassment or shame from having failed in our attempt.

When that happened at the game in question, the opponent’s team had the starting attack player right where it wanted him – on the bench.  In the realm of missionary work, the opponent revels in any noble activity thwarted by the fear of failure.

If, as the scriptures say, “the Harvest is great but the laborers are few,” we must continue to try, even if our initial attempt is unsuccessful. In the “Parable of the Lost Sheep,” the shepherd does not just try once and give up–he tries until the lost sheep has been found and is safely back to the fold.

Though he was not a Biblical scholar by any means, during his presidency, Teddy Roosevelt wrote what I consider to be one of the most profound pieces of applicable prose to missionary work that I have ever read:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls  who have never tasted victory or defeat.”

We must get into the arena—and stay there. Like the lacrosse player, we must “shoot” whenever we have the chance, knowing that some of our efforts will be successful…and some will not.

1st Timothy 1:7 tells us that we are to be motivated “not by the Spirit of fear but of love.”  As a driving force, love for our Father in Heaven, our Savior Jesus Christ, and his children who are all around us, will help us to overcome any fear of failure we might have.

Our goal is not one of nylon net and steel—it is to simply share the gospel whenever the opportunity presents itself in whatever way the Spirit prompts us at the time.

Whether you’re on the bench or on the sidelines, our team needs you on the field. The clock is ticking. How will you play?

–Kerry Harding